Possession of PCP (phencyclidine) in California is usually a misdemeanor that can be dismissed if you complete drug diversion. However, selling or transporting (“trafficking”) PCP is always a felony and carries years in jail or prison.
|California PCP crime||Maximum jail/prison term (generally) |
|Simple possession – 11377 HS|| |
|Possession for sale – 11378.5 HS|| |
|Selling/transporting (“trafficking”) – 11379.5 HS|| |
|Being under the influence – 11550 HS|| |
|Driving under the influence – 23152f VC|| |
In this article, our California criminal defense attorneys summarize the state PCP laws including possible defenses and penalties:
- 1. Possessing PCP (11377 HS)
- 2. Possessing PCP for sale (11378.5 HS)
- 3. Transporting or selling PCP (11379.5 HS)
- 4. Being under the influence of PCP (11550 HS)
- 5. Driving under the influence of PCP (23152f VC)
- 6. How to fight criminal charges
- Additional resources
1. Possessing PCP (11377 HS)
Health and Safety Code 11337 HS criminalizes possessing drugs for personal use in California, also called “simple possession.” For a court to convict you of the possession of PCP, the prosecutor would need to prove that either:
- you had “actual possession” of PCP, such as by knowingly carrying it on your person; or
- you had “constructive possession” of PCP, such as by keeping it in your car, home, or storage unit; or
- you had “joint possession” of the PCP, such as by sharing it with a friend or roommate.
In most cases, PCP possession is a misdemeanor carrying up to 1 year in jail and/or $1,000 in fines. However, you can often avoid any incarceration and get the charge dismissed if you finish a drug diversion program, such as:
Simple PCP possession will be treated as a felony instead of a misdemeanor if you were previously convicted of certain crimes (such as sex offenses that required you to register as a sex offender). The punishment is up to $10,000 in fines and a jail sentence of:
- 16 months,
- 2 years, or
- 3 years.1
2. Possessing PCP for sale (11378.5 HS)
Health and Safety Code 11378.5 HS is the California statute that makes it a crime to possess PCP with the intent to sell them. When a D.A. tries to prove you intended to sell PCP, they will likely rely on such evidence as:
- large amounts of drugs found at your residence, indicating that you did not intend to consume them all yourself;
- your PCP being stored in precisely measured bags or containers, suggesting they are “ready to sell;”
- that you carry a gun, which the state will argue is for self-defense when you are dealing drugs;
- large quantities of cash found on your person or in your residence, which are presumably the proceeds of past drug deals; and/or
- the police having witnessed you in locations known as where drug deals take place.
Possession of PCP for sale is a felony carrying three, four, or five years in California State Prison plus up to $10,000.2 Though you face an extra three to 15 years if the weight of the PCP exceeds one kilogram (or 30 liters by liquid volume).3
California law also adds on an extra year in prison to your sentence if you possessed any amount of PCP for the purpose of sale within 1,000 feet of a:
- drug treatment center,
- “detox” facility, or
- homeless shelter.4
Note that under Health & Safety Code 11383 HS, merely possessing the materials required to manufacture PCP is a crime so long as you intend to use those materials to make the drug. This felony carries a jail sentence of two, four, or six years.5
3. Transporting or selling PCP (11379.5 HS)
Health and Safety Code 11379.5 HS is the California statute that prohibits transporting or selling (“trafficking”) PCP. A court can convict you of trafficking PCP if the D.A. proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you either:
- transported PCP,
- sold PCP,
- furnished PCP,
- administered PCP,
- imported PCP into California,
- gave away PCP, or
- offered to do any of the above.
Trafficking PCP carries three, four, or five years in California State Prison. However, if the PCP was transported across more than two county lines – and you had an intent to sell the PCP at the destination – the court can impose three, six, or nine years in prison.6
Judges will probably hand down the longest sentencing term if you knew – or reasonably should have known – that the recipient of the PCP:
- was pregnant,
- had a prior violent felony conviction, or
- was being treated for a mental health disorder or for a substance abuse problem.7
Note that you face an additional three to 15 years in prison if the amount of PCP involved exceeded one kilogram or 30 liters.8 Also note that non-citizens convicted of trafficking drugs will likely be deported once they serve their sentence.9
See our related article on manufacturing a controlled substance (HS 11379.6).
4. Being under the influence of PCP (11550 HS)
Health and Safety Code 11550 HS criminalizes being under the influence of drugs in California whether or not drugs are in the vicinity when the police arrest you.10 The D.A. has to prove the following in order for you to be convicted of being under the influence of PCP:
- your physical or mental abilities are impaired “in any detectable manner,” and
- drugs are the cause of this impairment.11
It is a misdemeanor in California to be under the influence of PCP. This carries up to one year in jail, though you may able to avoid any incarceration – as well as a conviction – by doing a diversion program.12
5. Driving under the influence of PCP (23152f VC)
Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC is the statute that criminalizes driving a motor vehicle in California while under the influence of drugs.13 If you are being accused of driving while high on PCP, the court can convict you only if the DA. can prove the PCP:
“so far affected the nervous system, the brain, or muscles as to impair to an appreciable degree the ability to operate a vehicle in a manner like that of an ordinarily prudent and cautious person in full possession of his faculties.”14
The vast majority of driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) charges are misdemeanors and punished just like driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). For a first-time conviction, the judge can order up to six months in jail, up to $1,000 in fines, a driver’s license suspension, and DUI school.15
6. How to fight criminal charges
Here at Shouse Law Group, we have represented literally thousands of people charged with PCP crimes. In our experience, the following six defenses have proven very effective with judges, juries, and prosecutors in California:
1) You never knew the PCP was there
You committed no crime if someone planted the drugs on you or left them in your apartment without your knowledge. If the D.A. is unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were aware of the drugs’ existence, the case should be dropped.
2) An illegal search and seizure led to the PCP
If the PCP was found by police conducting a search in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, then we can ask the court to disregard the PCP as evidence. If the court agrees, the state’s case against you may be too weak to continue.16
3) Law enforcement entrapped you
If you were coerced by an undercover police officer into buying or selling PCP when you had no predisposition to do so, we can argue that you were unlawfully entrapped. If the court agrees, your case could be dismissed based on police misconduct alone.
4) You were not under the influence
The best defense to charges of DUID or being under the influence of PCP is that you were not in fact impaired by PCP. One way we can show this is to argue that you were suffering from a medical episode – such as a diabetic coma – that mimicked being high on drugs and caused the police to make a false arrest.
5) Your intention was not to sell the PCP
In possession for sale cases, we can try to persuade the D.A. to knock it down to simple possession by showing that the state has insufficient evidence to prove you had intent to sell. For instance if the state argues that you had large quantities of PCP, we can respond by saying that you intended to use all of it for yourself at a future date.
6) You are the victim of false accusations
The accuser in your case may be trying to get you into trouble with the law out of anger, revenge, or a misunderstanding. Often we can find evidence of their motivation to lie in their texts and voicemails, and we can use this to impeach their credibility on the witness stand.
The most helpful evidence in these cases is video surveillance footage, eyewitness accounts, medical records, and – if necessary – forensic expert witnesses.
For help or more information, refer to the following:
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA) – A 12-step program to overcome drug addiction.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) – 24/7 treatment referral service.
- What is PCP? – WebMD article about the drug’s properties and treatment.
- Phencyclidine – Drug Enforcement Administration fact-sheet on PCP.
- PCP Fast Facts – Department of Justice overview of PCP.
- California Health and Safety Code 11377 HS. See also California Penal Code 1210.1 PC. California Penal Code 1000 PC.
- California Health and Safety Code 11378.5 HS.
- California Health and Safety Code 11370.4 HS.
- California Health and Safety Code 11380.7 HS.
- California Health & Safety Code 11383 HS.
- California Health and Safety Code 11379.5 HS.
- California Penal Code 1170.82 PC.
- See note 7.
- 8 U.S.C. 1227
- California Health and Safety Code 11550 HS.
- People v. Enriquez (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 661.
- See note 10.
- California Vehicle Code 23152f VC.
- See note 11.
- See note 13.
- See also People v. Williams (2022) B313049 (unpublished).